One of my top memories from my trip to Cambodia and Vietnam was enjoying sweet dark smooth Cambodian coffee in various coffee shops. From five star hotel patisseries through to plastic street side seating, it was evident that Cambodian coffee takes a significant place in people’s day-to-day lives and a coffee ritual is not one to be rushed.
Most of the coffee in Cambodia actually comes from Vietnam although it is possible to drink Cambodian coffee too. Like all coffee, coffee in this region comes in different roasts and grinds with Coffee Lao Style being described as the king of coffee in terms of strength. It’s only for hard core coffee lovers – it is strong and served as a black coffee and it’s said that if it’s strong enough, your spoon should stand upright on it’s own – drink if you dare!
Don’t worry, most coffee isn’t this strong and slow roasting methods generally mean that Cambodian coffee is smooth and somewhat delicate compared to quicker darker roasts. The final thing that makes it different is that the beans are generally roasted with a coating of vanilla or cocoa powder and some sort of oil – it’s called butter oil but could be clarified butter or vegetable oil. This method of roasting helps to overcome the issue of roasting unripe beans, which is quite typical in the region as they take a long time to ripen fully.
The main brewing method widely used in this area uses a simple metal filter called a ‘Phin’. The Phin is a small metal filter device, which sits on top of the cup and brews enough for one small cup of coffee. Typically, coffee brewed this way is brewed over a glass cup or mug so that you can see the process.
Brewing Cambodian Coffee with a Phin
This is a slow method of brewing (typically 3-4 minutes of brewing time) which gives time for the water to drip through the ground coffee slowly and gather it’s taste along the way. Like most coffee brewing methods, you have to adjust it to your taste after some trial and error.
But here’s a good starter for ten to get you going:
- Firstly, warm your cup with some hot water
- Place the Phin on top of your cup or glass
- Add your coffee into the chamber and tap to level it out a bit – start with 1 rounded tablespoon and you can adjust this on future brews if you want it stronger
- Place the insert (called a cup spanner) into the chamber on top of the coffee and turn it around a few times to level the coffee below it – don’t compress the coffee just level it out
- Pour a few tablespoons of hot water into the chamber (water should be 185 to 195 degrees)
- After 20 seconds or so fill the chamber to the top, place the lid on top of this and wait patiently whilst the coffee drips through – typically about 3 minutes depending on the size of the ground coffee
- Remove the Phin
Whether you order your coffee hot or iced, its brewed in the same manner as above. Some like it HOT – just add milk and/or sugar to your cup. And others like it COLD – pour the hot coffee over a glass full of cracked ice. In fact, the Khmer Iced Coffee or the ‘toek doh koh toek gok’ as is called locally – is more of a treat.
And remember, if you are drinking this in true Cambodian style, stir in a good slug of condensed milk straight from the can!
For a more dramatic Iced coffee without the whipped cream:
First, pour some condensed milk into the bottom of your glass (don’t be stingy!), fill the glass with ice (chipped works better than cubes), and then pour over a good slug of strong Vietnamese coffee. Admire the layers and then stir the mixture thoroughly and sip slowly – or else, it will give you quite a sugar hit if you gulp down too quickly.
Yes, the brand matters!
The ‘king of condensed milk’ in the region is a brand called My Boy. Our Editor Ishita and her family, after her recent trip to Cambodia, have come back swearing that it doesn’t taste the same when a different brand is used (do read what she has to say though – in quotes). Although, we couldn’t track down My Boy in Dubai but you can find other brands with equal levels of sugar in the grocery aisles.
If Rainbow Milk can do the trick in the Kadak Chai in the Middle East, I am imagining that it could probably do the same to the Cambodian Cold Coffee! The Cambodian Coffee reminded me of the Iced Coffee that we were addicted in our college days and specially the kind served at the legendary Indian Coffee House in North Kolkata.
[This story has been written exclusively for FoodeMag dxb. All images taken by the team]